Quite often I get asked my colleagues or friends what gadgets I have found to be useful or fun to have at home. Lately it seems that some of my favorites have become inexpensive and so easy to use that I thought I should share them.
Bluetooth Wireless speaker: I have two of these and I don’t know what I did without them. I used to always have “iPod ready” alarm clocks or speakers in bathrooms or living rooms whenever my kids or guests wanted some music. Now with bluetooth wireless speakers you don’t have to be tied to plugins or specific rooms. They charge fairly quickly and the batteries seem to last quite a long time. I have a cheaper iHome little cube speaker in our bathroom that we stream Disney Pandora for my kids during bath time. I think it only ran $25-$30 and can be found most anywhere. I believe ours was purchased at Target. Our other one is a little higher end. It is a JBL model and is similar in size and shape to a pop can. It puts out tremendous sound for its size and we often use it outside while doing yardwork, having a bonfire, etc. There are other excellent models made by Beats, Bose, etc. I would consider it to be a must for any household. The sound can fill a room and offers the portability that today’s families are looking for. We have previously used ours while golfing, going for walks, etc. When you pair these devices with a smart phone, bluetooth mp3 player, tablet or laptop, it becomes a pretty useful device. Some programs that definitely aid in functionality include Pandora, iHeart Radio, iTunes, etc.
Digital Video Streaming Device: I wasn’t sure exactly how to describe this type of device, but this would be the category that would include the Chromecast, Apple TV, Roku, Kindle Fire Stick, etc. We started off with a Chromecast due to the inexpensive cost of $35 and liked it so much we bought a second one. Then we bought an apple TV because we wanted to easily stream our kids video content from our iTunes account. The competitiveness in this market must have struck a cord with Apple, because they recently dropped the cost of the Apple TV from $100 to $69. Needles to say we liked our Apple TV so much we bought a second one of those as well. However, keep in mind that we have credit card that gives us rewards in the form of Best Buy gift certificates, so many of these items were free for us. If you are an apple user and have more than one of the following: an iPhone, newer iPod touch, and iPad, MacBook, etc. I would recommend the Apple TV. It “talks” well to your other Apple devices and allows “mirroring” of your screen using the Airplay feature on the newer MacOs devices. It also has numerous apps or channels built in to it that update frequently, so you don’t have to have an additional device to enjoy its capabilities.
The Chromecast is half the price ($35), but is limited in its ability to cast content that comes from certain apps (Hulu, Netflix, MLB.tv, YouTube, ABC, HBO Go, Disney Movies, etc.). It can also cast a window from a Google Chrome Browser as long it is the full (not mobile) version. So you can cast windows from your desktop in a presentation, etc.
Both the Apple TV and the Chromecast plug in to an HDMI port in your TV. Chromecast can either be powered by a USB plugin in your TV or through an AC outlet. Apple TV plugs in through a standard 2-pronged outlet. The Apple TV does come with its own small remote and it can be programmed easily to be used with a universal remote as well. If you are looking to possibly dump cable entirely I would look at Apple TV, but if you are looking for an inexpensive streaming option Chromecast might be the one for you. If you want to use either with a TV that doesn’t have an HDMI jack, you will probably end up spending as much money on adapters, but it could be worth it. I personally feel like every household should have at least one of these fantastic devices.
Tablet– This is one of those items that is a personal preference piece. I know a lot of people that are Android users and love the Samsung tablets. Being in education I am a lot more familiar with the iPad and iPad mini. I am also intrigued by the new inexpensive Kindle Fire tablet that can miraculously survive a fall of the top of a moving mini-van (like in the commercial). I have personally found that for kids the iPad mini is a nice size and is very versatile. It is light enough for little hands to carry and hold and fits nicely in most any purse or backpack. We have a Griffin Survivor case on ours and it has withstood quite a few tumbles. If you don’t have kids and want a tablet for reading, web surfing, photos, video streaming, etc., I would go for the full sized iPad or another larger tablet.
**Something to consider** if you want something lightweight, inexpensive and portable that can connect to the web, but you really want a keyboard, you should consider a Chromebook. You can find them n the $250-$350 price point and they load quickly and behave much in the same way as a normal laptop but without the noise and load time caused by a hard drive. The models I have used have SD card and USB slots as well as an HDMI out. The keyboard and screen are very similar to a small laptop, but the google login to access the device makes it perfect for multiple users in the same family (as long as they all have gmail accounts). The best model I have seen is from Dell and comes equipped with a gorilla glass screen, a rubber coating on the outside of the case and USB plugins on both sides of the device.